I’m completely at a loss to understand why this compilation has been released as a Blu-Ray disc as well as on DVD. As can be seen, the programme doesn’t even begin to utilise the full capacity of a disc. Furthermore, the recordings are so elderly that the Blu-Ray format can’t really deliver any significant enhancements. So, if you want this anthology I can’t advise you to incur the additional expense over and above the cost of the DVD issue unless you absolutely have to have the Blu-Ray format. All of which leads on to the question: how desirable is the compilation in the first place?
Well, there are attractions. Here are some of the last century’s great Strauss voices. However, in most cases they’re not heard - or seen - to best advantage. We get only a tantalising glimpse of Rita Streich and the camera work is so basic that there’s just a fixed shot of her until the very last bars when a different camera angle actually reveals to us that Janine Reiss was physically present.
Much of Seefried’s contribution is disappointing. I don’t think that the sound flatters her voice – in Morgen
the tone is, frankly, plain. I didn’t much care for her performance of this song or of Wiegenlied
. Matters improve thereafter and Traum durch die Dämmerung
is sung with some feeling and both singer and orchestra are animated and light of tone in Ständchen
. However, overall I don’t think these performances do anything for this fine artist’s reputation.
The Schwarzkopf contributions are variable too. The two songs with Gerald Moore are the only items shot in colour. In Morgen
for no good reason that I can see the performers are placed “artistically” at opposite ends of the set – which looks like someone’s idea of a chamber in a castle. Miss Schwarzkopf then stands next to the piano for Mein Vater hat gesagt
- and proceeds to deliver it in an insufferably arch fashion. The singer is not too well served in the orchestral songs where Berislav Klobukar leads an unnamed orchestra in rather plodding accompaniments. Mind you, their cause is not helped at all by the recording: the orchestral sound is recessed and opaque. The camerawork is terribly static and old-fashioned – we watch one song almost entirely over Schwarzkopf’s right shoulder. It’s really only in Zueignung
that we hear at something approaching her best.
The programme is redeemed by the excerpt from Der Rosenkavalier.
This is the extended scene between the Marschallin and Octavian with which Act I concludes, though so superficial is the accompanying documentation that we’re not even told from where in the opera the excerpt is taken. I don’t know if this excerpt is taken from a fuller broadcast of the opera: I suspect it might be, Mackerras conducts very well and Hertha Töpper is a convincing, impetuous Octavian. But it’s Schwarzkopf who steals the show. She’s very believable as the Marschallin, conscious of the advancing years and sufficiently worldly wise and realistic to know that sooner or later Octavian will trade her in for a younger model. Her acting is as impressive as her singing and nowhere more so than in the passage that begins ‘Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding’. Even though this is in black and white and the production is very much of its time if this excerpt is part of a longer BBC broadcast I think it would be worth issuing. The English subtitles here and throughout the programme are good.
Despite the eminence of the singers concerned I’m afraid I can’t work up much enthusiasm for this release which, frankly, seems misguided to me. Strauss and his lifelong love affair with the soprano voice are well worth celebrating but there are far better ways to do so than this.